Finding a gift for a car enthusiast is an unenviable task. A nice pair of pants will end up stained with oil, an expensive smartwatch will lose its screen in a battle against a brake caliper, and fancy kitchen appliances will end up listed in the local classifieds faster than a Tesla S hits 60 mph in Ludicrous mode.
Don’t settle for another thoughtless gift card quite yet. We’ve compiled a list of items that will send car guys and gals over the moon.
A car care kit
Some gearheads are Viper enthusiasts, others are into four-wheel drive Mitsubishi vans, and a few even have a soft spot for models built on Chrysler’s infamous K-car platform – believe us, we’ve met at least one (heck, some are on the DT staff). They’re a diverse bunch but they all have one thing in common: they love their car.
A complete car care kit like the one offered by Meguiar’s bundles all of the products required to make a car look new again inside and out. Whether the car in question is tucked away in a garage or soldiering on through winter storms, it’ll ultimately need a wash.
Motorists commonly buy dashcams to protect themselves in the event of an accident. For gearheads, a dashcam also doubles as a tool to record epic adventures. Racers will use the device to analyze their last track run and find ways to get faster, while off-roaders will sit back and review how close they really came to leaving a streak of paint on a boulder. The best dashcam on the market is the Vantrue OnDash R2, according to our team of expert reviewers.
Broadly speaking, car guys have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Basic facts are posted on Wikipedia and on various forums, but nothing compares to sitting down with an actual book and taking in facts, stories, and photos for hours. There are books for every type of enthusiast, ranging from an in-depth history of Lamborghini to a guide that explains how to turn a classic Ford into a hot rod.
Take your gearhead’s taste in cars and level of knowledge into account when buying a book. An expert on 1970s Alfa Romeos doesn’t need a step-by-step guide on how to restore a Chevrolet Corvette; similarly, a Dodge Challenger Hellcat enthusiast won’t touch a book about the history of Fiat’s design department.
A kit from Lego’s Expert series
Legos aren’t just for kids anymore. The Danish brand’s Expert line is aimed at teens and adult who have both the skills and the patience to build a highly-detailed model made up of over a thousand individual parts.
There are a few cars to choose from, including the Volkswagen Beetle, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the Caterham Seven, and even the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. Putting one of these kits together is almost like a mini restoration project that takes up less time and money than the real thing.
A video game
Short of actual track time, a racing simulator is the best way to hit triple-digit speeds without risking a disagreeable encounter with the law. Try it if you haven’t, you’ll be surprised; video games have become surprisingly realistic over the past few years. Titles like Assetto Corsa let players test a wide array of different cars on some of the world’s best-known tracks without getting off the couch. Forza Horizon 3 for the Xbox One allows for a generous amount of fantasy fulfillment, with a long list of cars as well as an open world to explore. You can even combine Driveclub VR with the Playstation VR headset to put your lucky gift recipient directly behind the virtual wheel.
A radar detector
Mistakes that involve a speedometer are usually the costly kind we want to avoid making. But, intentionally or not, everyone occasionally goes above the speed limit. A radar detector helps enthusiasts avoid hefty fines, though you need make sure it’s legal in the state and county your gearhead lives in.
Not sure which one to pick? The Escort Max 360 is a much better product than the homely Ford econobox it shares its name with. It’s expensive, but it offers just about every feature available on a radar detector today.
Much like sports fans enjoy wearing their team’s jersey, car fans are happy seeing their favorite car on a t-shirt. There are t-shirts out there for virtually every budget, too, so it’s a no-brainer if you’re short on ideas.
A company in New Mexico sells t-shirts with the amazing illustrations that Peter Aschwanden provided for one of the best Volkswagen Beetle repair manuals out there. But that’s easy, right? Almost everyone likes the Beetle. Well, for better or worse there are also t-shirts for fans of the Cadillac Cimarron, and every car in between. Yes, even the Chevrolet Chevette.
A model car
It’s hard to go wrong with a model car. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from under an inch to over a foot long. Pricing is just as diverse: a Matchbox car retails for less than a buck at your local grocery store, while a high-end, highly-detailed model sometimes costs as much as a used compact car.
An Audi-branded wine decanter-chiller
For the enthusiast who enjoys the finer things in life, Audi makes a beverage decanter-chiller that’s as practical as it is stylish. Simply pour wine (or your favorite beverage) into the decanter, drop ice cubes into the steel core, and serve as soon as it drops to the desired temperature. A regular decanter is also available.
A spot at a driving academy
Finally, for the enthusiast who has everything, allow us to suggest a spot at a driving academy. It’s definitely not cheap, but it’s a unique and memorable opportunity for your favorite gearhead to learn from professionals how to improve his or her driving skills both on and off the track.
Driving academies are available everywhere; some are organized by auto-makers, while others are hosted by race tracks. For example, Lamborghini offers several courses that teach enthusiasts how to drive on a track, how to drive a supercar in the snow, and what it’s like to drive a full-blown race car.